Are you being sponsored for your MBA? Do you have plans to return to your current company after you finish with school? Great! Today’s post is not for you. 🙂
Today we’re talking about applicants who want to go to bschool and then they have a pretty good idea of what they want to do afterwards — but they get hung up on how to present it.
Sometimes the difficulty comes in when they are really really excited about one specific company and have their hearts set on working there especially. When they get the advice from the ‘Snarkarooni to go specific on their goals, name names, share details, then that take that advice to heart and they write up a very explicit plan for the future about what they will do post-MBA.
But, then they run into this problem that we discussed as The Katie Holmes Situation.
(Go read that post, it’s one of our classic snarks, and illuminates the issue vividly!)
But you still may be wondering, “‘Snark! What gives! You said to be specific. I was specific. Now you say not to be?! You confuse me, Mr. Snark!”
And we totally understand the bewilderment that you may be facing. There lots of moving parts, and many unknowns!
Which kind of underscores the issue at hand.
1.) If you KNOW where you’re headed post-MBA, because you have a job lined up and a future mapped out with a specific firm, then specific is great! You can still overdo it, since, like, you know, the future is impossible to predict. But you can be a tad more specific and lock things down in that situation. This applies for sponsored candidates, and for those who are going to a family business, or to you entrepreneurs who either have something started already, or plan to do so during bschool (one small caution on that last category, though, since again, the future can’t be predicted, and if you haven’t even launched this venture of yours, it can strain credibility to speak in categorical terms about what you “will” be doing by X date, or Y date, etc.)
2.) If you DON’T KNOW what exactly you’ll be doing, but you have a very good idea of what you THINK YOU will do, based on the info available today, and your understanding of yourself, your skills, your strengths/weaknesses and preferences, and what experiences you’ve had in the past that you feel you’ll be able to leverage, then you still want to be specific in how you lay that out, but you don’t want to be so specific that you’re writing it in a very narrow way.
In other words, if you’re a BSer in Category #2, then you need to write a career plan — and not make it tied in to one particularly company.
If you write about only one company, and only one job, then it becomes a job plan and it’s no longer about a career. A job plan can be workable if you’re in Category #1, because you actually know what job you are aiming for. It’s been discussed with your boss. Or, you’re your own boss, and you know what your boss-ness will consist of in this firm. It’s mapped out. You will call it a “career goal” but it’s really about the path you’ve laid out that you can basically predict, and you’re just executing on it now, and you need the education from bschool to make sure you can be as successful as possible in achieving it.
Most people trying for bschool are in Category #2, though. Which means if you put all of your eggs in this one company’s basket, in the way you describe your goals, they sound weird. They sound like you’re expecting it all to work out flawlessly from today going off to the distant future, which everybody knows won’t happen precisely that way.
This boils down in some ways to issues of tone, and word choice, and how you present. If you say “I will be a such-and-such” then it seems weird, if you haven’t actually interviewed for that such-and-such role yet. Instead, use phrasing that gives wriggle room, like, “My goals are to become a such-and-such” or “I want to go into such-and-such work at XYZ company” or whatever.
As with most things, it requires a balance.
Yes, include the details, but don’t do so in a way that is written definitively — unless it is definitive for you.
For most BSers, especially those in Category #2, what we’d suggest is to make a plan for your career — NOT JUST ONE COMPANY.
Because what if the market conditions don’t cooperate?
Or, what if the company shuts down, or gets bought?
Because all of these unknowns, then it’s going to be near-impossible to write a compelling argument for why you need to go to business school now if you base everything off of one specific opportunity at one employer (unless you’re a Category #1 BSer).
Again, a Category #1 BSer can get away with somewhat more definitive language in presenting their goals. If it is YOUR company, and you are making decisions on what to do for yourself, and for the firm, and you come up with viable Plan Bs or Cs that you would have control over, and can discuss them reasonably well in an interview, then yes! But if the ideas you have are only early-stage ideas, and if they rely on many other pieces to come into place just perfectly, and the stars to align on a Sunday in autumn, and the wind blowing from the East and the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates, and and and… you get the idea. If there’s too much out of your hands — and it then it can sometimes make the plan for business school even sound contingent on this single opportunity. Which by definition isn’t a career plan.
So, if you feel you’re flailing on this, we suggest backing up. What do you want to do? Where do you see your career headed — independent of a specific opportunity that you heard about, that sounds so perfect for what you want to do? Or, integral with it, if you feel that it’s solid and reliable in terms of how you can predict your partnership to go with the principal, and what say you have in making a specific future happen for yourself with this opportunity at the center of it.
Do you get excited by consulting? PITCH THAT!
Do you get excited by going to work at this specific firm? Then PITCH THAT!
Or is now the time to explore other areas of business to see what might really get you inspired? It can be tricky to pitch a set of future goals that are too different from what you’ve done before, so we only include this in order to make sure you’re looking at this as the opportunity that it is!
Remember, the MBA is ideally positioned in terms of how you need to prepare yourself for a particular future path that you’re jazzed about. And those career goals should be focusing on your CAREER and how you can optimize your direction in life, starting from where you are today and what you have done that you can then build on.
Our concern with a plan that has too many dependencies on multiple impossible-to-predict variables is that it’ll be really hard to a) explain, and b) defend. Sometimes MBA applicants are paired with interviewers who have knowledge of the industry that the applicant wants to enter. If it’s too easy to poke holes in your plan, then your interview may go south really quickly. And that would be a sucky situation indeed.
If all of this still has you bewildered: Our Career Goals App Accelerator can give you specific feedback on what you are planning to pitch!
Not all schools put that much weight on the goals — but some of them do! Being as buttoned-up as possible on what you will say, while not digging yourself into a ditch by not considering the angles and possibilities, is the balancing act required. Clearly stated goals can often help a candidate from an oversubscribed pool stand out. And it’s such a valuable experience to go through personally! Figuring out what you want to do with your life is not a trivial task, and you’ll learn so much about yourself by taking an open-minded approach that helps you question assumptions and validate ideas you’ve come up with.
You’re dreaming your future, and coming up with a plan.
Have fun with it, BSer!